Prevalence of Trypanosoma cruzi infection and associated histologic findings in domestic cats (Felis catus).
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Trypanosoma cruzi is a zoonotic protozoan parasite transmitted by triatomines that infects a wide range of mammals. South Texas is a hotspot for triatomines, T. cruzi-infected dogs and wildlife, and local transmission to humans also occurs. However, little is known about the infection of domestic cats (Felis catus) in the United States. Given the role cats play in the ecology of T. cruzi in Mexico and South America, we hypothesized that T. cruzi infection occurs in cats from south Texas, sometimes associated with cardiac pathology. In 2017, 167 euthanized cats from a south Texas shelter were sampled across winter, spring, and summer. We collected whole blood and hearts from all cats, with additional tissues from a subset. Serum samples were screened for T. cruzi antibodies using two independent rapid immunochromatographic tests and an indirect fluorescent antibody test. Cats were considered seropositive if they were positive on at least two independent serological tests. Blood clot, heart tissue and other tissues were subjected to qPCR for parasite detection and discrete typing unit (DTU) determination. Tissues from selected seropositive or PCR-positive animals and a subset of negative animals were processed routinely for histopathology and examined by a board-certified pathologist. A total of 19 cats (11.4%) were seropositive and three cats (1.8%) - one of which was seropositive - had one or more PCR-positive tissues. Infected tissues included heart, bicep femoris muscle, sciatic nerve, esophagus, and mesentery. Genotyping of the parastite to the level of DTU showed that exclusively DTU TcI was present, despite past studies showing both TcI and TcIV in vectors of the region. Eight of 19 (42.1%) seropositive cats exhibited lymphoplasmacytic inflammation, sometimes with fibrosis, in cardiac tissue compared to 28.6% of 28 seronegative cats (P = 0.10). Domestic cats are affected hosts in the eco-epidemiology of Chagas disease. Future prospective studies are needed to understand disease progression. Veterinarians in the southern United States should consider T. cruzi in their index of suspicion in cats with exposure to vectors and undetermined cardiac abnormalities.